The health benefits of breastfeeding are many: postpartum weight loss, increased immune system for the baby, a close bond between mother and child, yet sometimes the health and joy of breastfeeding can be disrupted by a very pesky fungus known as candida albicans.
While candida occurs naturally in the body, when it is allowed to grow unrestricted, it can cause problems in breastfeeding–for both the mother and infant. A baby who develops a candida condition often suffers from infant oral thrush or severe candida diaper rashes, while a mother’s body responds by developing candida or thrush on her nipples and in the milk ducts, often causing itching, pain and even a decrease or cease in milk production. Thrush can also be passed between mother and infant.
A common cause for candida in breastfeeding women is taking antibiotics. Whether the woman or infant has taken one round or multiple rounds of antibiotics, the medication kills off the good bacteria in the system as well as the infection. In these conditions, the good bacteria is not there to fight the candida overgrowth–so the fungus proceeds to grow out of control.
Furthermore, pregnancy itself makes it more likely for a woman to develop candida overgrowth due to the increase in estrogen levels that lead to elevated sugar levels in the body. It’s no secret that yeast feeds on sugar, thus, promoting the candida condition.
Other issues that leave a breastfeeding woman more susceptible to nipple and breast thrush is when the woman has had a vaginal yeast infection during the pregnancy or if she is experiencing cracked nipples due to baby’s poor latch when nursing. Both conditions open the door to candida. Other contributing factors include chronic illness, lowered immune system and use of steroids.
Possible symptoms of a breastfeeding woman with candida include:
· A red rash-like appearance on the nipple or red nipples.
· Nipples may appear swollen, scaly, or have tiny blisters.
· Sensitive and irritated nipples; pain or discomfort when touched.
· Severe pain during nursing.
· Pain, burning and/or itching of the nipples during and between feedings.
· Sharp pains deep in the breast tissue or milk ducts.
· Decrease in milk supply.
· Breastfeeding infant may also have thrush in his or her mouth, although this isn’t always the case.
One of the most frustrating aspects for many mothers with breast thrush is the decrease in milk supply. It is important to most women to attempt to continue breastfeeding through the infection. However, sometimes the severe pain prevents proper let-down reflex which leads to the baby not getting enough milk. If the baby also has thrush in its mouth, which is likely, he or she may also be experiencing pain, adding to the struggle.
Most healthcare professionals recommend treating both the mother and infant for candida overgrowth, even if just one of them is presenting with symptoms. Otherwise, the yeast can continue to be traded back and forth.
Common treatments for breastfeeding-related thrush are prescription antifungal creams as well as gentian violet. Proper nutrition is also very helpful when it comes to keeping the candida away. Avoiding sugar and process foods, and flushing the system with lots of water are positive steps to improving ones diet while preventing future thrush outbreaks.